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Nothing Like Family—Not
Boy, a recent headline offering a celebrity’s take on the holidays has me going. It read: “Family is all we have.” Great perspective for all who have few or no family members alive or who live far away from them. Nice outlook for those who are surrounded by abusive or dysfunctional relatives. This is exactly the kind of misguided sentiment that generates unhealthy thinking, feeling and behavior, especially this time of the year, and drives people into potentially self-destructive eating situations.
“Family is all we have” is a dangerous message that pervades our culture (more likely, all cultures). It keeps secrets of abuse and other dysfunction from leaking out when we’re children and prevents us from getting psychological help as adults. It dissuades us from moving away from noxious people and toward positive relationships throughout our lives. It trashes our ability to put parental transgressions into perspective and recognize how their dysfunction impacts ours. It warps our sense of value and self-worth as relatives visit their stuff on us and we consciously or unconsciously take it in.
It benefits no one to believe that family is all we have. For folks who were fortunate to be raised in functional households, it creates a lack of understanding about those who weren’t: they can’t comprehend why family doesn’t mean more or why people aren’t close. The pressure to connect and be with family during the holidays is overwhelming, and people don’t need guilt and shame to push them into the arms of relatives who will harm their fragile psyches or trigger self-destructive behavior. They don’t need simplistic homilies advising them to make unwise decisions about who to spend time with—and, more importantly, who not to be with—during a season of purported loving and caring .
Now hear this: family is not all we have. We have friends and the ability to forge new, intimate, healthy relationships. We possess our own emotional resources to be by ourselves if need be, yes, even during the holidays. Sometimes hanging with friends or alone is a superior choice to being around dysfunctional, hurtful relatives. This doesn’t mean forever. As we get saner, wiser, and stronger, we often can return to being in the company of our family of origin (nutty as they are) with fewer repercussions. But we must be convinced that we have options, are not wrong in disbelieving that “families are all we have,” and can make choices which will really warm our hearts—at this time of year and all year round. If you want to improve your relationship with food (and yourself), it’s time to consider what really will be best for you over the holidays. That may include being with family. Then again, it may not.